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Gutbucket: Cascades and Collisions

By Published: June 21, 2011
AAJ: Two touchstones that occur to me for your band are John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
sax, alto
's Naked City and George Cartright's Curlew. How do you relate to them?

From left: Eric Rockwin, Ty Citerman, Ken Thomson, Adam Gold

TC: I don't actually know Curlew's music (though I know of them). Naked City is a group we argue about. There's a lot of push-and-pull where we debate and dissect a lot. We have an appreciation for Naked City, and certainly for John Zorn and all of his work, and for all the players in Naked City, who are incredible. We played at a jazz festival in Warsaw in 2003, and Naked City was performing, with guest vocalist Mike Patton. I seemed to be the one who liked it, and Ken and Eric, for sure, were not that excited about it. But I think Naked City has done some amazing things, especially in their heyday.

AAJ: Do you have any other bands that you admire and use as reference points?

TC: We're a group of music lovers. We're all people who have some relationship to playing rock, some relationship to playing jazz and some relationship to playing some kind of classical... I think as musicians we all have some relation to playing each of those three strains of music, and where we have more or less experience or interest varies from one to the other, but I think when we were starting out the band, I at least felt we were coming out of a jazz place that was kind of pushed in a certain direction by the nature of our instrumentation: when you have an electric guitar and an electric upright bass, that kind of defines your sound, in a way—just like if you have a saxophone, an acoustic bass and a piano, it defines your sound.

And we wanted to make music that had tunes and had improvising. I think that was our framework. We want songs, and we want improvising, and we want it to be performable. The idea of recording it actually came—it was in our heads—but I think what we are as a live band has evolved as we've let our imaginations run with our compositions. Really, a striking document of how we've developed as a recording band is what's happened from one CD to the next, and how that's evolved.

AAJ: You really strike me as a jazz band, and I think that's a good thing.

TC: I think there was a time we weren't sure perhaps, because the jazz scene wasn't having us, and the rock scene wasn't having us. But I think we've come to embrace playing a role in the jazz community. It struck me recently because I've been reading the Robin Kelley biography of Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
[Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Free Press (2009)], about how in the early years, in the '40s and early '50s, how Monk was both this pioneer and this kind of outsider—how he felt he was received by the press and some of his peers at times... We are part of the jazz world, even if we're not at the center: we occupy some space in the jazz world. It's not the same as Thelonious Monk's either.

AAJ: T.S. Eliot wrote that great poets steal. You do a lot of stealing, in that sense. But what to you feel you are giving, or contributing to the music?

TC: I think by nature the fact that we are the people we are, what we write won't be like what Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
or what Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
writes. But I think there's a really wonderful way we use the instrumentation. We have to create this kind of synergistic quality to the music. We've always prided ourselves on having a big sound, and one of the compliments I've looked to is when people after hearing us say, "I didn't understand how so much sound or how such a powerful sound could come from just four musicians." I think there's that quality to our music, and I think there's a really wonderful interplay between me and Ken as melodic voices, but I think beyond that, we also don't hold to the rigid definitions of the roles that our instruments play. There's a lot of counterpoint between all four of us, or there are a lot of passages where the drum is the primary melodic voice and the rest of us are supporting that. I think there's a fluidity that a lot of good bands have, and I think we really treasure that.

But what is our mark in history? I don't know! I don't think the jump cutting, attention deficit disorder thing is the key to what we do, but I do think there is forcefulness and a ferocity to what we do. And at the same time an ability to be very tender and delicate, so in that sense, not necessarily from one measure to a next, but that broad reach is something we pride ourselves on.

AAJ: How old were you when you started playing guitar?

TC: I think I was eight. I played violin for a couple of years, played recorder; then I switched to guitar.

AAJ: This would have been...

TC: 1982.

AAJ: The Prince-Madonna era.

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